The IEEE is reporting that, apparently, the navy's been conducting ongoing research into the fleischman-pons "cold fusion" effect, and that further
research funding may be on its way, pending review by the Department of Energy. Link:
The article's a bit of a wash, in my mind, because it's still hung up on the idea that "cold fusion" involves actual fusion...if you go back and
look at the history of the "cold fusion" phenomena fleischman and pons called it "cold fusion" because the amount of excess heat they generated
could seemingly only be explained by a thermonuclear reaction, but unfortunately for them (and "cold fusion") the fusing of two deuterium's should
result in neutron emissions...but even in successful "cold fusion" reactions no appreciable neutron emissions were detected.
The lack of neutron emissions made it easy to dismiss "cold fusion" as either a mistake or a hoax, and together with the difficulty in reproducing
the results this was enough to kill off the field, more or less. It's interesting to speculate what would have happened had fleischmann and pons
simply reported excess heat, without naming the phenomena "cold fusion". For those interested, I'd like to recommend the book "Undead Science",
which was written by a sociologist of science interested in the rise and fall of the "cold fusion" field. Because he's a sociologist of science --
and thus doesn't know much more than elementary chemistry, etc. -- the reportage of the scientific debates on "cold fusion" is as clearheaded and
unbiased as you'll find anywhere, probably because the author's got no scientific credibility or fringe-science credibility to lose.
The picture that emerges from the book is that under certain difficult-to-achieve circumstances, large amounts of anomalous heat can be produced in a
palladium bar sufficiently saturated with deuterium, but because of a huge number of factors -- the expense of palladium (which made it costly to
reproduce the experiment), the name "cold fusion", the difficulty of getting a positive, the lack of understanding of what made the occasional
successful reaction successful, etc., -- inquiry into the phenomena completely died off in any official capacity, although a few scientists here and
there continued the research on their own time and at their own expense. It's a good read, although if you're just interested in the science you can
skip pretty much everything past the beginning few chapters, as the bulk of the work deals more with how people do science -- get funding, staff labs,
etc. -- than with actual science. Link:
After reading it, I figured that probably in a few decades, or at most a century, our understanding of chemistry would have increased to the point
that someone could dust off the Pons-Fleischmann stuff and figure out how the occasional successful results were obtained; my hunch is that the
reaction is the result of some delicate interactions between the electrons in the outer orbitals of palladium and the hydrogen's electron, and this
interaction's heavily dependent upon the geometry of the palladium lattice....so even a small impurity here or there can disrupt the reaction.
According to the article, the reaction is very delicate:
Other researchers are finally beginning to explain why the Pons-Fleischmann effect has been difficult to reproduce. Mike McKubre from SRI
International, in Menlo Park, Calif., a respected researcher who is influential among those pursuing cold fusion, says that the effect can be
reliably seen only once the palladium electrodes are packed with deuterium at ratios of 100 percent—one deuterium atom for every palladium atom. His
work shows that if the ratio drops by as little as 10 points, to 90 percent, only 2 experimental runs in 12 produce excess heat, while all runs at a
ratio of 100 percent produce excess heat.
But the jury's still out on how the "cold fusion" reaction actually works:
And scientists are beginning to get a better handle on exactly how the effect occurs. Stanislaw Szpak and colleagues from the Space and Naval
Warfare Systems Command have taken infrared video images of palladium electrodes as they produce excess energy. It turns out that the heat is not
produced continuously over the entire electrode but only in hot spots that erupt and then die on the electrode surface. This team also has evidence
of curious mini-explosions on the surface.
So, this is one to watch for...until there's a reliable working device and a solid theoretical understanding of how the reaction occurs, it'll be
hard to tell how useful "cold fusion" actually is, but it appears that there may be something to "cold fusion" after all.